JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's legislative handled a ban lobbyists gifts much like a smoker treats kicking the habit. They talked a lot about it, but just couldn't bring themselves to really do it.
The final death knell came in the Senate on the last days of the session when it rejected a last-gasp effort to stick a lobbyist gift-ban into omnibus crime bill.
But problems for the issue had been brewing for weeks as the House and Senate took quite different positions on the issue - and then refused to take up the other chamber's bill.
The House had approved a total ban on gifts and dinners proposed by retiring Rep. Greg Canuteson, D-Liberty. The Senate took a more lenient Senate approach that would allow lobbyists to buy gifts for standing committees and the full body, just as long as it wasn't for an individual member.
Canuteson called the Senate version "watered down lobby reform" and "not very meaningful." But for Senate Sponsor Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, committee dinners encourage the participation of average citizens, and therefore should not be eliminated.
Eventually, the Senate version made it out of the House Judiciary Committee, but it was too late, and the bill never received a floor vote. The House version never saw the light of day after being sucked into the black hole of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. John Schneider, chairman of the committee, stood strong against Canuteson's bill and questioned its need since lobbyist gift-giving is already a matter of public record.
"I don't want us to get to a point where we drive this stuff underground," he said.
It was Schneider who sponsored the motion to strike down the last-gasp Senate effort on a lobbyist gift ban.
For Canuteson, who is not seeking reelection, this marked the fourth straight session his attempt for lobby reform died. But never before had he been so close.
The climate seemed right. House members, who face an election year, bad-mouthed Canuteson's bill in committee and on the floor, but every time it came up for a vote, it easily passed. The Senate showed its willingness for lobbyist reform early in the session by passing a rule that restricts senators from accepting any lobbyist-bought gift that exceeds $50. In addition, no senator can accept more than $100 worth of gifts in a legislative session.
"There's an atmosphere of change in Jefferson City these days," Canuteson had said. "It's right for substantive change."
In the end, however, the philosophical differences between Maxwell's bill and Canuteson's proved to be too gaping, and the deal couldn't be closed.
After the session, Gov. Mel Carnahan, expressed disappointment that nothing had gotten passed.